Renowned photographer Miranda Brand was just 37 when she died by suicide in 1993, leaving behind her husband, Jake, a painter, and her 11-year-old son, Theo. The news stunned the art world—after years of struggle, eccentric and daring Miranda seemed to be once again hitting her stride—and the small beach town of Callinas, California, in which the family lived.
In 2017, erstwhile copyeditor Kate Aitken has been hired by Theo to archive his mother’s personal effects, a job that piques Kate’s journalistic curiosity and offers the potential for healing after sexual harassment drove her to flee her job in New York City. But in Sara Sligar’s engrossing and powerful debut novel, Take Me Apart, this exciting opportunity soon becomes something much darker.
ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Sara Sligar on the American cult of celebrity.
As Kate dives deep into the artifacts of Miranda’s life (including a lyrically written yet deeply disturbing diary), she becomes consumed by Miranda’s pain and neglects her own. It doesn’t help that Aunt Louise, who’s hosting Kate’s stay, is an accomplished manipulator, adept at pecking away at her niece in search of juicy details. As Kate fends off the town gossips, she struggles to keep her own counsel. Despite a nondisclosure agreement, she’s begun snooping around the house and Callinas in search of answers about Miranda’s death. Was it actually suicide, or is someone—Theo, the police, former friends, a smart but sleazy gallerist—keeping deadly secrets?
The novel is written in alternating timelines and perspectives, with well-researched nods to the 1970s-1980s Manhattan art scene and keenly felt deep dives into Miranda’s unraveling mental state as she contends with her husband’s increasing jealousy and resentment. As the past unfolds via Miranda’s flotsam-and-jetsam memories and Kate’s increasingly feverish investigation, Sligar prompts readers to muse on the ways in which artists often suffer greatly for their creations, especially if they are women. She also, with great empathy, explores the potentially devastating effects of untreated mental illness and the downsides of ambition, success and fame.
Take Me Apart is rife with fascinating dichotomies—gossip is corrosive but sometimes useful; trauma is torturous but may inspire powerful art; success is desirable but exhausting to maintain—and offers a fresh look at the legacies we leave behind, in all their painful and powerful humanity.